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Her High Hopes

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For once ignoring her, the mayor continued: He'd had respiratory problems, traced the cause to "sick building syndrome" in his town hall office, where he'd ordered the ceiling tiles replaced after discovering the town had been restaining old ceiling tiles, storing them and using them again and again. Stern commented: "That's Old Davie for you."

In the Stable of Fame of Davie politics, Stern and Venis share a saddle for the campaign of 1997, when Venis, then a councilman, won the first direct mayoral election in Davie history with Stern as his campaign manager.

Among the campaign hurdles they jumped were revelations that in June 1996 Venis, an accountant and professional wrestler whose nicknames include "Dirty Harry," had been caught by police leaving a Dania massage parlor. After initially claiming that he only had been getting a massage, Venis later admitted in a sworn statement that several times he had visited a prostitute there for sex.

In what became known as Davie's version of the "Bill Clinton strategy," Venis apologized, said he and his wife had worked things out, that he loved his family, and that his town council record spoke louder than his police statement. This strategy was aided by having a weak opponent, Paula Twitty, owner of a medical-equipment business, who was fined $130,000 by Medicare for audit irregularities. Politics in Davie being subtle as a branding iron, that discovery resulted in a Venis-Stern campaign flier depicting Twitty's face behind jail bars.

In the recent council campaign, Stern helped the losing incumbent Terry Santini, remembering, "The firefighters came out in cars following us around, snapping pictures. It was just typical immature behavior."

According to Stern's analysis, the Davie results represent less a return of power to the people than the effectiveness of targeted special-interest politics. Rattling off the variety of unions represented by Councilman Weiner's Miami law firm, Stern said the Weiner-Paul forces engineered special campaign mailings to union members. "I've used that strategy in Pembroke Pines, going after the special-interest group, reminding them, 'Hey guys, this is one of our own.'"

Noting that only about 4300 of Davie's more than 33,000 registered voters bothered to go to the polls, Stern said: "I think it shows that people are basically content with their lifestyles here.... But you have to look forward and build your economic base, because the taxpayers don't want to support the entire community, the level of service they want. Homeowners aren't going to want to pay for it."

Stern also worries Davie is not taking advantage of being home to the South Florida Educational Center, a 650-acre complex that includes the campuses of Nova Southeastern University and Broward Community College, and branches of the University of Florida, Florida Atlantic University, and Florida International University.

Said Stern: "You have one of the largest educational sections in South Florida, and it's not being promoted properly on the town's behalf. You have to start creating some business incentives to get corporate headquarters here and tying in the educational complex so you can attract the medical community, research community, pharmaceutical companies.

"If you don't provide those incentives, business is not going to come here. We may have the last land in the county.... You can't stop development. The best thing is to negotiate that development so you don't look like Pembroke Pines or Miramar."

Of the criticisms of her power in Davie, Stern sees it as a "healthy community partnership" between business and government. "I don't think I'm an evil lobbyist. Have I pissed off some people? Absolutely. What can I say. I'm sorry if I've been successful on some issues that people haven't been in favor of. Do I control a vote? No. Do I get the respect of at least having my issue listened to, and have the ear of someone and being listened to? Yes."

Finally Stern was asked about her "confrontation" with Judy Paul, during which, according to a postelection Sun-Sentinel article, she "threatened" Paul and "warned that Paul's political career was over because she dared to challenge the lobbyist's power."

"That was the most insulting statement," Stern exploded. "It never happened. I don't know where it came from.... What I did say to her was I asked her before she makes any decision to at least take the time and go out and visit American Medical Response to see for herself, instead of just having one side of the issue."

While Paul denies she ever said Stern "threatened" her, she's never publicly refuted the newspaper account, leading Stern to insist, "That one I took as a very personal attack. She owes me an apology."

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Dan Lovely

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